Early learning from home: Physical Development in Tight Quarters

This is the third in a series of blog posts highlighting tips and strategies for parents at home with children under age 5. We hope you find these ideas useful! You can find the other posts in the series via the links below:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5* | Part 6* 

* = coming soon!

Over the years, we have complicated physical health for children with the idea that they require pre-made structures and highly organized activities with lots of equipment. But that is not the case; children were adequately expending energy and developing fine and gross motor skills long before these things existed. Playgrounds and designated play centers created a form of play that has structured what we know and has become our comfortable norm. But now that we are being challenged to create physical opportunities without any structures (and only one guideline — to stay home), you can rest assured knowing that simple physical activities can be developed with limited space and materials. 


Open-ended physical activities are the best way to encourage high levels of creativity, develop fine and gross motor skills, build resilience, and increase opportunity for safe risk taking. Engaging in risky play is not a narrative we tend to be comfortable with, especially when it comes to our young children, though engaging in risky play is essential for a child’s cognitive, emotional and physical development. (For a more detailed understanding of risky play and its importance in early childhood development, Tim Gill, an early childhood researcher has released an online version of his book “No Fear: Growing Up In A Risk Averse Society”.) 


The less you direct a child’s physical actions, the more trusted they will feel, allowing their confidence and sense of self to flourish. Remember: the goal is never the end result, but what they discover about themselves along the way. Here are some of my favourite physical development activities to help you and your child find some balance in these new circumstances.

Fine Motor Skill Development

Make a sensory bin


These are one of the easiest and best ways to create meaningful and engaging learning opportunities for young children. Grab a bin and some dirt from the backyard and bury some toys for a treasure hunt, or create your own indoor garden. No backyard? No problem: grab a bin and fill it with water and bubbles! You can find a list of sensory bin and bottle ideas here.

Paint with objects


Lay out the biggest piece of paper you can find, select a few less popular toys, and let your child create their own masterpiece. Putting paint out with cars and trucks to use as “paint brushes” was always a hit in my classroom.

Plant seeds and watch them grow


This is a wonderful fine motor activity as they use their hands to plant the seeds. It also fosters a sense of ownership as they water and monitor their plants’ development.

Raid the home office


Have a home office with extra materials? Blank paper inside a sheet protector makes a great white board (tape it down so it doesn’t keep moving). Or put some masking tape down on a table: your child can color the tape and, then when they are finished, they are challenged with picking up the tape, which is an amazing way to work on their pincer grasp. Also, bubble wrap — need a say more?

Make some play dough


If you think you are at a loss for engaging sensory materials, you can quickly whip some up.Try the play dough recipe found here (cream of tartar is optional, I have made it without!), or the cloud dough recipe found here.

Gross Motor Skill Development

Sing the “Sleeping Bunnies” song


Sing this classic song (found here) multiple times and switch up “bunny” with whatever animal you child wants to act out the next time around! This song is a favorite as it gives your child agency in deciding what animal is coming next, and it provides an opportunity to explore different animals — and of course, jump around the house!

Plan a scavenger hunt



You could write a list of objects from around the house to find, or add a literacy or numeracy component by writing and cutting out letters or numbers to hide (with your child depending on their age). Once they find them all they can be tasked with making words from the letters, or ordering the numbers into a number chart.

Do some yoga


Toddler yoga is a great way to get their bodies moving and stretching, and to provide an opportunity to demonstrate how we can use breathing techniques to calm our body when we feel overwhelmed. Here is a link to wonderful yoga resources with simple stretches for children 5 and under.

Lay out a homemade balance beam or stepping stones


Lay a hockey stick or piece of string on the floor, and challenge your child to use it to practice their balance. Up the ante by turning things like bubble wrap, construction paper, or sand paper into stepping-stones taped to the floor in a maze around the house — the perfect way to play the “floor is lava” game! 


It is easy to feel overwhelmed in this time of uncertainty, but do not underestimate the things you can create with your materials at home! I hope that this blog post brought about some relief in what you can do, and spark some enthusiasm as you and your child become the pioneers of your own learning and engage in creativity, imagination, and innovation together. 


In my next blog post, I’ll share some tips and strategies on how to encourage communication, language, and literacy in self isolation. In the meantime, join our At Home Learning Community Facebook group for more ideas and tons of great resources, shared by teachers and parents from across North America.


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